On 04 September 2019, American Airlines made its last MD-80 revenue flights and held a retirement fete for the iconic 1980s aircraft, the workhorse affectionately nicknamed Mad Dog. All through the 1980s, American and TWA wielded brand-new MD-80s to compete with each other and other airlines on domestic flights. It was the backbone of the domestic fleets of both airlines in those years and a regular sight in St. Louis. When American bought the assets of St. Louis-based TWA out of bankruptcy in early 2001, TWA team members joined American, and the MD-80s that had flown against each other became part of the same fleet.
The MD-80 was expected to have a relatively short lifespan. They ended up being the longest running fleet type in Americanís history. The last MD-80 was built at the McDonnell Douglas factory in Long Beach, California, and delivered to TWA in December 1999. That same plane, an MD-83 number N984TW, continued flying for American and was retired along with the rest of Americanís MD-80 fleet.
The twin-engine McDonnell Douglas was conceived as another stretched variant of the DC-9, the MD-80 made its first flight as the DC-9 Super 80. It entered service in 1980. The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 was flown by Alaska, American, Continental, Delta and TWA. While the pilots and first-class passengers enjoyed an unusually quiet ride up front, flight attendants complained about the noise of the two engines in coach.
The McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 (now produced in an updated form as the Boeing 717), Airbus A-320, and Boeing 737-300, for example, transport twice as many passengers per gallon of fuel than the DC-9 and earlier versions of the 737. In addition, they emit smaller amounts of the gases of concern to scientists studying global warming and other environmental trends.
The Boeing MD-80, a quiet, fuel-efficient twinjet, was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration in August 1980 and entered airline service in October 1980. Its Pratt & Whitney JT8D-200 engines, combined with its efficient aerodynamic design, allow the MD-80 to meet all current noise regulations while producing operating costs among the lowest in commercial aviation.
Four MD-80 models-the MD-81, MD-82, MD-83, and MD-88, are 147 feet, 10 inches (45.08 meters) long and accommodate a maximum of 172 passengers. The MD-87 is 130.4 feet (39.76 m) in length, with a maximum passenger capacity of 139. Wingspan for all models is 107 feet, 10 inches (32.88 m). The MD-80 was produced at the Long Beach Division of Boeing Commercial Airplanes until December 1999.
The MD-80's nonstop range is from 1,500 to 2,700 statute miles (2,410 to 4,345 kilometers), depending on the model. The MD-81's maximum takeoff weight is 140,000 pounds (63,503 kg); the MD-82's and the MD-88's are 149,500 pounds (67,812 kg). The longer range MD-83 has a takeoff weight of 160,000 pounds (72,575 kg). The MD-87's maximum takeoff gross weight is 140,000 pounds (63,503 kg), with an option to 149,500 pounds (67,812 kg).
Operators ranged from the largest foreign and domestic trunk carriers to new startup airlines and charter operators. Swissair and Austrian Airlines began the first service, while American Airlines operates the largest number of MD-80s, a fleet of 275. In addition, 35 MD-80 airplanes were assembled and are operating in the People's Republic of China.
In the early 1980s, American Airlines President Robert Crandall struck a creative deal to help the struggling aircraft manufacturer rise above its lackluster sales performance. It was essentially the turning point for both McDonnell Douglas and American Airlines, as the deal laid the initial groundwork for where they are today. At the time, American was adjusting to its new model with Dallas-Fort Worth being a central hub and needed to reprioritize ideas concerning its immediate growth.
While American had already reviewed the MD-80 and wasn't interested, the aircraft maker needed a deal. The McDonnell Douglas sales team and Robert Crandall met to devise a plan that could benefit both McDonnell Douglas and the airline. The deal was unique and allowed the airline to grow very quickly, hire more team members and expand its domestic operations ó all the while, providing the initial interest needed to encourage other airlines to also reconsider the aircraft ó thus launching the beginning of MD-80 sales.
The introduction of the new fleet eventually energized the airline's workforce of pilots and with the aircraft, they logged a successful track record of navigating the skies and making lasting memories along the way. The pilots loved the reliable aircraft. American's fleet grew to 362 active aircraft, at one point making up 40% of the airline's fleet. With that growth, the number of pilots at American Airlines also grew.
Pilots who have flown the MD-80 said that it was a "pilot's airplane." It ha unique characteristics, like the standby compass affixed to the back wall of the cockpit that is only visible via a mirror above the main control panels. Even with the quirks of the aircraft, MD-80 pilots had a great sense of pride, because they can experience firsthand the energizing, manual nature of flying a plane. It was very old school, there aren't any modern computer screens affixed to the controls. The steering columns are connected to a cable that goes directly to the flight controls. Pilots can feel it give and pull throughout each flight, and it is a thrilling experience that pilots trained on newer aircraft may never experience. Customers usually don't get a firsthand view of the cockpit. And, to anyone who isn't a pilot, the sight can be overwhelming. The MD-80 cockpit interior was one of the last commercial aircraft primarily made of round dials to gauge every aspect of the aircraft. In its prime, the MD-80 was very responsive and had what we considered state-of-the-art technology.
The jets that arenít leased likely will be used for other companies seeking parts, particularly engines, said Josh Freed, a spokesman for American. Delta Air Lines Inc. continued flying some MD-88s and MD-90s, later vintages of the model.
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